“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk,” Thomas Edison said. Many of Edison’s quotes are about the importance of inspiration and work. With these two ingredients, the optimistic tinkerer can shape raw materials into brand new things.
Of course, this is a significant oversimplification of the process of innovation. Turning imagination into something fully realized is not a simple or clear-cut task, with the journey to many great advances looking a lot like stumbling around in the dark blindly.
From medicine and physics to the creation of new appliances, the process at the heart of changing the world may not often be beautiful, but the final result is. Here are six game-changing discoveries in which chance, curiosity and an open mind played a huge part:
**Editor’s Note: There seems to be some confusion based on readers’ comments that this post is about researchers discovering electrolysis of water. That process has been known since the 18th century. This article is about research looking to make industrial-scale hydrogen gas from water using novel electrodes that diminish the amount of electricity and precious metals needed during electrolysis.**
Scientists have made a breakthrough in generating hydrogen gas fuel more efficiently by splitting water with smaller amounts of electricity.
Stanford University researchers report that they have disassembled water molecules into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen with the electromotive force of a single AAA battery. Both gaseous products are flammable and hydrogen is considered a viable power source for electricity production and vehicles. In fact, the first hydrogen fuel cell cars will be available for purchase in the US beginning in 2015.
The Stanford group also accomplished the low-power water splitting, a process called water electrolysis, without the expensive precious metals typically used. They put two electrodes in a beaker of water and sent current through them, which broke the liquid into the two gases.